Without question, winter is time for contemplating the garden, though I readily admit I’m not much on planning. With cold temperatures and less labor there is opportunity to consider what went wrong, and no doubt countless minor tragedies befall the best of gardens. Also to consider, what worked, no matter how small the successes might seem after a year when magnolias were killed, and crapemyrtles and hydrangeas died to the ground.
I do not favor lists. I’ve never made them, and couldn’t find them by year’s end if I did. Perhaps I should. Too often, I can’t recall if the Seven Son tree (or whatever) perished this year, or the one before, though I believe it was two years ago (maybe three). A dependable record would keep matters straight, I suppose, if I paid any attention. But, rarely am I concerned that one or another has died, since plants die for a multitude of reasons, explicable or not. Often, there is no lesson to be learned, at least not by me, so why bother?
Who can explain why one crapemyrtle dies to the ground, while another twenty feet away suffers no injury? Two magnolias die in the cold, but another rated less cold hardy does not suffer a single brown leaf. The reasons are more complex than I have the expertise to consider, so I’m hardly troubled when one thing or another perishes. There are larger issues to contemplate.
Certainly, the progressive wetness of the lower quarter of the garden is troubling. A two decade old witch hazel perished in the dampness, and a similarly aged holly is on its way out. Perhaps the damp soil contributed to the magnolias’ demise. Regular rainfall made mowing of the small patch of lawn in the rear garden a headache, and there appears no solution short of bulldozing to regrade to make the area drier.
So, with these problems apparent even to me, as the witch hazel was removed I’ve planted shrubs and perennials that I believe will flourish in the dampness. Now, I’m encouraged and enthused by the additions. It’s likely that a newly planted weeping Bald cypress will prove too wide spreading at some point, but it should thrive in the saturated ground. Chokeberries, Sweetshrubs, and Buttonbush will tolerate the wetness, and these are lovely shrubs. Sensitive ferns and Joe Pye weed will fill gaps until these mature, and today I’m quite pleased as I envision this section of garden. Perhaps I’m imagining a garden that is another year or two away, but rather than seeing failure, it seems that the garden is headed in a better direction.
I think there is some advantage to compartmentalizing the garden, so while one area is acknowledged as nearly a disaster, another might be entirely pleasing. The garden surrounding the large koi pond changes annually, but except for the loss of the Seven Son, I have no complaints. Following the death of this treasure, a Red horsechestnut was planted in its place, and while it would be best to have both, I cannot now imagine why I didn’t plant a horsechestnut or two years earlier.
Some perennials and small shrubs that filled gaps between young shrubs have now been swallowed whole, and often I forget that this or that once occupied space at the pond’s edge until I see an old photo. Sometimes I’m saddened by the loss, but there’s little other reason for disappointment with the growing maturity of this garden.
While mophead hydrangeas died to the ground, they have recovered nicely, and all flowered late but abundantly (though with fewer stems). Oakleaf hydrangess by the pond were not damaged, and for whatever reason these grew prolifically so that they began to spread too far, encroaching on neighboring shrubs. While mopheads were pruned severely to remove dead wood, boisterous live wood of Oakleafs was chopped to preserve irises and pineapple lilies.
I suppose that in January most gardeners have begun to consider additions to the garden, and as usual in this garden the decisions are dictated by what can be jammed in, and where. Always, it seems, there is space in the large area of dry shade, though I must be aware of small shrubs that were planted in recent years that will not be so small for long.
There is no shortage of space to continue to add to the collection of hellebores and toad lilies, and possibly another handful of hostas can be planted. These require little room, and who can question the benefit in planting these sturdy treasures. The worst of winter does not bother these beauties, but still there will be a few oddities that catch my eye that will inevitably be added wherever they can be fit. If these prove to be sturdy or not, there will time next January for evaluation.